December 18, 2013 | by Mark Lee
Graham, ANC delusions on Reeves Center deal
Reeves Center, gay news, Washington Blade

The Reeves Center. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

D.C.’s “silly season” has commenced.

Another confirmation that local election campaign nonsense is now fully underway was found in an opinion piece by D.C. Council member Jim Graham in last week’s edition of the Washington Blade. Graham only earlier in the week had announced a much-delayed decision to seek a fifth four-year term.

Graham suggests that the District’s preliminary inking of a deal to swap the Reeves Center government building site, at the corner of 14th and U streets in Northwest Washington, for land needed for a planned soccer stadium opens the door to dictating use-composition of a replacement private sector development project.

It doesn’t. Nor should it.

Also overestimating prerogatives in such matters, the U Street Advisory Neighborhood Commission earlier invited residents to a community meeting this week organized by the D.C. Department of General Services (DGS). ANC-1B solicited participation with the topic identified as “What should the D.C. government do with the Reeves Center?”

That isn’t the question.

In other words, a smokestack full of hot air has been released.

As confirmed with agency personnel, DGS scheduled the public meeting as an initial community outreach allowing city officials to update the status of city presentation of the deal for Council review. It is also a first step in engaging area residents to “analyze potential impacts related to the proposed disposition and redevelopment of the Reeves Center site” in order to later identify “mitigation strategies to minimize these impacts.”

Demolishing the aging Brutalist-style monstrosity most notable for its problem-plagued infrastructure and subsequent construction will pose neighborhood and commerce inconveniences. Hence, this initial public meeting.

Wishing for influence over the fundamentals of a developer’s already-planned project simply isn’t relevant.

This is not a city-issued request for proposals to develop city-owned land in the abstract. It’s a complex negotiated deal granting the government-owned site to a developer in exchange for land being assembled with city assistance for construction by D.C. United of a soccer stadium at Buzzard Point, four blocks from Nationals Stadium. When the land swap was publicly announced the developer presented schematics for the planned residential project with street level retail, all part of the deal.

While the deal has proven widely popular and enthusiastically embraced in a way that the baseball stadium arrangements never were, the D.C. Council must ratify the deal. Any ANC may choose to offer comment during public hearings.

Graham treating it like a building he can personally construct with Legos is outlandish.

Graham behaves as an old-world Soviet apparatchik, insisting on a defined private sector build-out to suit his command economy proclivities. He demands that the project consist of commercial office space instead of residential housing, including non-profit offices. He also specifies a seasonal farmers market on a public plaza not part of the plan – or likely economic feasibility.

Graham seems to think that replicating the current usage will somehow benefit the neighborhood in a way it doesn’t now.

Graham also plays the “gay card” – insisting space be provided to the “Gay Center.” When the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community smartly decided to temporarily utilize below-market rate retail space at the Reeves Center until relocating once demolition begins, a commitment for government-owned rental space was conveyed.

Despite strong public support for the stadium land swap and among his colleagues, Graham declares that he is “willing to consider” supporting the deal if it conforms to his druthers.

The best Graham offers in the realm of economics is that “a major private commercial office building ought to find this space very attractive.” In the real world of business, however, differentials in viability between adding to a glut of D.C. office space and satisfying market-driven housing demand are transparent.

Graham, or an advisory neighborhood group, shouldn’t attempt to queer the deal with the personal preferences of those accustomed to allocating the public dole.

Step aside, Mr. Graham, this is enterprise at work – again benefiting our city.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

6 Comments
  • Why did I know that as soon as I saw the headline that it was another whiny Blade Mark Lee column? Oh, because that is what he always writes. Yes, you correct that this project is not a typical government controlled development, but why should that stop the local community from expressing its desires as to how this property is ultimately reutilized. That is what the political process is for. So give it up, just because you are still smarting over years of loosing to Jim Graham over smoking in bars and liquor licence issues doesn’t mean he doesn’t have the interests of the community in mind.

  • Amen. This space should be put to its most productive use as dictated by the market, not what local politicians want.

  • “That is what the political process is for.” For…what, again, exactly? For telling a private property holder, after it trades the property into their hands, what they can and cannot do with it? Or, for having no intention whatsoever of actually compelling the private property holder re: usage, but nonetheless patronizingly indulging that public in some kabuki theater?

    • Well it sounds like you want another city give-a-way to a developer. Have you ever heard of zoning or is that a socialist plot? It is still the responsibility of the City Council to husband city-owned property and enure that it is citizen’s best interest and not developers’ profits that is most important.

  • The Blade has become so right-wing neo-fascist. It would be as anti-gay as Uganda if it weren’t gay.

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